Friday, April 19, 2013

Portals vs Web Apps

I have often debated on the real value of Portal servers (and the JSR 268 portlet specification). IMHO, portal development should be as simple and clean as possible and I personally have always found designing and developing portlets to be very complex comparatively.

Kai Wähner has a good article on Dzone that challenges the so-called advantages of portal servers. Jotting down some of the excerpts from the article and also sharing my thoughts.
Let's start by dissecting the advantages of portals one-by-one.

  • SSO:  With so many proven solutions and open standards for SSO, I think there is little value is utilizing the SSO capabilities of a portal server.
  • Aggregation of multiple applications on a single page: This can easily be achieved using iFrames or any other MashUp technology. For e.g. In SharePoint, we have a page-viewer web part that renders any remove web page as a IFrame.
  • Uniform appearance: Just need a good CSS3 developer to create some good style-sheets. Also all web application frameworks have the concept of Master Page and page templates.
  • Personalization: Depending on the complexity of personalization, we can achieve it using role based APIs or some custom development. 
  • Drag and Drop Panels: Again easily done using JQuery UI widgets (pure-javascript). Just check out the cool http://gridster.net/
  •  Unified Dashboard: Again can be done using IFrames or JS components from Ext-JS or JQuery

Hence I feel we really need to think hard and ask the right questions before we blindly jump on the portal bandwagon and spend millions of dollars on commercial portal servers.
This link also lists down some questions that are handy during the decision making process.

Marketing folks of portal servers often tout on the personalization features of Portal servers. I would like to remind them that the most personalized website in the world - "Facebook" runs on PHP :)